If you find yourself afraid of an upcoming online meeting where you need to speak up, you’re not alone. This is a natural tendency borne from the common fear of public speaking. In fact, the fear of public speaking is one of the top fears today, but you can still do something about it.
You hear over and over again that practice makes perfect, and this also applies to public speaking. Any sort of public speaking – even when you speak out in your group of friends online or in Zoom meetings – can ease you into the unexpected public speaking role.
Here are some actions you can take to reduce any fear of public speaking:
- Be prepared. In most public speaking situations, you can use notes. Make sure you organize your notes long before the meeting and break them down into an organized list where you highlight two or three key talking points. (That’s the secret: Just start with three key points.) If you can’t use notes, simply make it a point to practice your speech until you feel comfortable saying it in front of others. You might still have some fear, but being well prepared can definitely combat this feeling.
- Don’t expect perfection. It’s important not to expect that your contribution will be perfect. In fact, chances are your audience doesn’t expect perfection either. They understand that everyone makes mistakes and they, themselves, may be afraid of public speaking. You might skip over a part of your talk or stutter a little, and these are all natural human mistakes.
- Speak in small groups. If you’re uncomfortable speaking in front of a large group, then start small. Practice on small groups and ask for feedback afterwards. You can have a confidential feedback form, or you can just ask participants what they thought of your speech. In fact, pretend every group is a small group even if they are huge in numbers.
- Have a backup plan. It’s always advisable to have a backup plan in life situations; public speaking is no exception. Think about what you might want to say if you get stuck. If your mind goes blank, take a deep breath and start your backup plan. Chances are you’ll find yourself back on track before you know it.
- Relax. It’s important to get yourself into the right mindset before you have to speak. Consider starting a ritual that you find relaxing in order to keep your mind off of your fears. You could breathe deeply for a minute, meditate or do a crossword puzzle. Whatever it is, just choose an activity that helps you relax.
The Audience Can Be Scary
The audience is the whole reason you’re afraid to make your speech, but it helps to know that they’re not scary. Look at them as actually being on your side. Keep a positive attitude because chances are good that the audience wants you to succeed in your speech.
In the end, it’s important to remember that even if you do mess up, it’s not the end of the world. As long as you’ve prepared yourself well enough and have a backup plan in place, you’ll be able to pick yourself back up if you trip up anywhere in your speech.
After your presentation, it’s important to take notes and critique yourself on how it went. I debrief with 3 simple questions:
- What did I do that I liked?
- What did I do that I didn’t like?
- If I had to do it all over again, what would I do differently?
Applying the answers from those disarming questions – in that order – has helped me improve tremendously over the years. It has helped me assess situations long after the emotion of the event has passed.
Whether it’s online or in-person, as you continue to practice your public speaking skills, you’ll get better and more comfortable in time. Just go all in!
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